On Friday, I joined Walter Jon Williams, Melinda Snodgrass, Vic Milan, Carrie Vaughn, and Ty Franck at Daniel Abraham’s new house for a day-long brainstorming session to help Daniel plot out his next big project, a five-volume fantasy epic.
I can think of worse ways to spend a Friday.Having wrapped up his groundbreaking debut series, The Long Price Quartet (A Shadow in Summer,A Betrayal in Winter,An Autumn War, and the forthcoming The Price of Spring), Daniel has been thinking about a new epic fantasy project for quite some time. Last year he called a few people together to discuss the nature of high fantasy, which resulted in a fascinating multi-hour discussion. Daniel has reported on the highlights of this informal “fantasy symposium” on his blog here, here, here, here, and here. It makes for fascinating reading. I was there and I still learned a lot from studying Daniel’s synopsis.
Prior to our meeting on Friday, Daniel sent out a 10-page document that included a map (geography is central to epic fantasy, isn’t it?); character descriptions of all the major characters, both point-of-view and supporting; a description of how magic might work in this fictional world; and a rough sketch of how the story would unfold over five books. By the end of the day we’d revamped, or discussed revamping, every one of these things.
Because Daniel had thought through a lot of the background details (geography, magic, etc.), this plotbreaking session was less chaotic than they sometimes tend to be. Often, when less of the background material is in place prior to the meeting, there is an initial period of wild brainstorming that eventually coalesces into something orderly. I’ve discussed the process, which is something magical in its own way, here. This approach to Daniel’s project is similar to how we carried out the plotbreak for my series, The Milkweed Triptych.
We began by discussing the major characters– who they are, what they want, what they need, what changes them, and what the highlights of their personal arcs will be. (Note that a character’s wants and a character’s needs are rarely the same thing. Often a much more interesting story arises when those two things conflict with one another.) By doing this, we were able to see that one of the characters originally intended to be a point-of-view character wouldn’t work that way. So just by jotting down a few bullet points on a whiteboard we were able to identify a potential problem with the series, and fix it, before Daniel had written a single page. The magic of plotbreaking!
Then we turned our attention to the storyline, plotting out the major beats of all 5 books. Along the way we had to chart out the geopolitical progress of a major war. (We took a lunch break before tackling that. Daniel provided pizza to replenish our faltering levels of neurotransmitter.) What fun! Daniel has posted his own summary of the proceedings.
Of course, I have no doubt that even without a brainstorming session like this, Daniel would still produce something brilliant and beautiful. But it is a fun excuse to get together with friends. We wound down around mid-afternoon. During a break before heading off to dinner (Daniel magnanimously treated us to dinner, too), a few of us stepped outside to enjoy a thunderstorm. Ty, Carrie, Walter, and I were standing on the patio when lightning struck the tree at the corner of Daniel’s house. It narrowly missed Ty and Carrie as it arced from tree to patio, and narrowly missed me and Walter as it worked its way toward us, arcing from one ornamental pillar to the next. Vic had (wisely) left by then, and Melinda had (wisely) taken the dogs inside moments earlier.
Nobody was (permanently) hurt. Except for having the ever-loving-bajeezus scared out of us. Carrie has posted a photo on her blog. Walter described the actual event in more detail (as well as the plotbreaking process) on his own blog. Update: Melinda has her own take on the day, too, including a nice action-photo of the plotbreak in progress.
The four of us should start exhibiting superpowers any day now. I hope I get something cool.